Basyas Fire

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Basyas Fire by Alexa Druyanoff

“Basya’s Fire” tells the story of the Druya ghetto fire. My great-grandfather Samuel left Belarus at the age of 10 in the 1900s because of anti-Jewish pogroms. He left behind relatives in a townlet called Druya, from which my family gets its name. The ones who were left behind died in the Holocaust, and thus, I researched the townlet. Before World War II, Druya had a large Jewish population, but after the Holocaust until the late 1990s, when survivors returned to view the ghetto memorial, the presence of Druya’s Jewish population was nonexistent. In 1942, the Nazis closed the Druya ghetto, which had only been open for a few months, and shot the remaining Jews into a mass grave behind the synagogue. While the Nazis were beginning to round up Jews by the Druyka River to shoot them, the synagogue was lit on fire. One woman—Basya Peltin—stood out to me, as she was credited with starting the fire, due to the proximity to her house, according to a survivor Abram Brio. The chaos created by the smoke allowed some Jews to escape from the Nazis into the forest. Although only a few fled into the forests and survived, Basya is a hero who allowed a handful of generations to be able to live. I wanted to highlight her sadness in her facial expression and her strength and heroism by the position of her arm. I even drew a photograph of her husband Zalman. Drawing helped me foster a connection with Basya, while keeping her memory alive.